DRC: From Kabila to Tshisekedi, the story of Beya’s fall from grace

By Stanis Bujakera Tshiamala
Posted on Friday, 18 February 2022 16:50

François Beya, security advisor to Félix Tshisekedi © Montage JA; Saad for JA

François Beya, the president’s security advisor, was arrested on 5 February on suspicion of undermining state security. This is a very serious accusation to level against a man who has a reputation for being untouchable and who, since Mobutu's regime, has navigated his way into the heart of power.

Although the day was already well underway, Beya had just gotten out of the shower. Had he decided to take his time, since it was the start of the weekend? Or had the February heat made him want to go back to the bathroom? In any case, at around 1pm, he heard men banging on his door at his home in Kinshasa’s Gombe district.

The commotion caught him off guard. He dressed up hastily while agents from the Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR) entered the premises. His phone and that of his wife were confiscated. Jean-Hervé Mbelu Biosha, head of the ANR, presented Beya with a letter instructing him to follow them.

Despite his insistence, his wife refused to read the contents of this letter. In a few hours, Cameroon and Burkina Faso would be competing for third place in the African Cup of Nations, even as the noose tightened around the head of state’s security advisor.

“Tshisekedi authorised this arrest”

Did these few minutes seal the fate of this discreet but powerful man? In Kinshasa, and within various chancelleries, he was seen as untouchable because he was active across many networks. He was the head of the Conseil National de Sécurité (CNS) and it was no secret that he had access to the most sensitive files, those that require skill and interpersonal skills. Even so, a member of the president’s immediate entourage tells us that “Félix Tshisekedi authorised this arrest”.

When the ANR agents took Beya away, the head of state was thousands of kilometres away, in Addis Ababa.  He was attending the African Union summit, to hand over the organisation’s rotating presidency to his Senegalese counterpart, Macky Sall. This time round, however, his stay in Ethiopia was brief. He did not even attend the dinner that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hosted on Saturday evening, as he was already on his way home. Tshisekedi was also missing from the closing ceremony, a customary event for outgoing AU presidents to attend.

Political earthquake

Back in Kinshasa, Tshisekedi chose not to publicly speak about the fall of one of the country’s most powerful men. He knew that rumours had spread and that the Congolese would be quick to link it with another scandal, just as brutal, which had occurred a few days earlier. It involved Jean-Marc Kabund, who had been at the helm of the ruling Union pour la Démocratie et le Progrès Social (UDPS) for two years.

The new president needed someone with experience, who knew where the files were and how they should be handled. They were not close.

It was not until three days later that the presidency decided to address this earthquake that had shaken Kinshasa. Speaking on national television, spokesman Kasongo Mwema Yamba Yamba said: “It is a matter of state security. In this case, we can say that the investigators have uncovered serious evidence that suggests actions against national security.”

What were these clues? Did Beya, as some suggest, entertain the idea of a coup d’état? Even though the Congolese presidency does not want to answer these questions, it has nevertheless said “the democratic process initiated by the first peaceful transfer of power in January 2019 is an achievement that needs to be preserved at all costs” and insists that “no attempt to destabilise democratic institutions will be tolerated”. The implication is heavy and the accusation extremely serious.

Beya feels that this is not a disgrace, but rather a downfall. Some say he has compromised himself, while others say he is the victim of a palace war. The latter adds that he had retained his ties to former President Joseph Kabila, so it is possible that he is now paying for it.

“Relationship of necessity”

A diplomat says the special adviser would gladly offer a glass of champagne to his visitors, whom he received in his rooms at the Sultani Hotel, and that while they sipped it, they would be looking at many pictures hanging on his wall as symbols of influence: Beya with the Pope, Beya with Nicolas Sarkozy, Beya with Jean-Pierre Bemba, Beya with Moïse Katumbi… In one of the pictures, he is standing in between Tshisekedi and Kabila. Is this proof that he did not want to choose one over the other?

At the start of 2019, Tshisekedi’s rise to power did not appear to challenge Beya’s influence. As soon as he was sworn in, Tshisekedi made Beya his security adviser. He entrusted him with the CNS, which oversees most of the intelligence services. However, a diplomat with access to the palace explains that it was a rational choice. “From the beginning, it was a relationship of necessity,” he says. “The new president needed someone with experience, who knew where the files were and how they should be handled. They were not close.”

It is worth noting that Beya has an impressive CV. Originally from the territory of Dibaya, in what is now the province of Central Kasai, he is part of the first generation of Zairian intelligence officers that were trained by Mossad. Recruited by Seti Yale, Mobutu’s intelligence boss, and sponsored by Honoré Ngbanda, one of the Marshal’s most loyal “securocrats”, he has since served all the regimes, weaving his web within the Centre National de Documentation (the forerunner of the ANR), then the Direction Générale de Migration (DGM), which Kabila entrusted to him.

“Incompetent and greedy”

Appointed in February 2019, he quickly made new enemies within the president’s entourage. He was in the front row when Vital Kamerhe fell. In Kinshasa, there are rumours that he may be implicated in the judicial setbacks of the former director of cabinet, who was accused of embezzlement and sentenced to 13 years in prison, on appeal.

Faced with a hostile Kabund – who is quick to publicly criticise him when their points of view differ – Beya is witnessing his progressive marginalisation. He saw the president’s close friends and family turn away from the UDPS leader one by one. A few weeks later, did he sense that his turn had come and that danger was closing in?

He had conflicting relations with several members of the inner circle. First, with Yane Fumuatu, his main assistant, whom he suspended in December 2020 and banned from leaving the territory. Accused of insubordination, usurping capacity and influence peddling, the latter accompanied Tshisekedi everywhere during the last electoral campaign. Still influential, Fumuatu has not forgotten this slap in the face from the security advisor.

Beya’s relationship with the head of state’s private adviser, Fortunat Biselele, was no better. Nicknamed ‘Bifort’, Biselele was summoned by the CNS in a dispute involving other figures close to the president – including Corneille Nangaa, former president of the electoral commission – over a mining plot. As a result of this affair, Beya was stripped of some of his prerogatives, which were handed over to the ANR. He was not involved in appointing Mbelu to head the agency.

Was he showing a lack of discretion when he complained about the behaviour of some of the president’s collaborators – who are listened to even though their expertise is not sound? One of his close associates mentions the existence of an audiotape in which Beya says Tshisekedi “only works with incompetents and enjoyers”. A member of his own team probably recorded this private conversation without his knowledge.

Contacts with the CIA

A member of the government nevertheless told us that this is not enough to explain why Beya’s hearing is taking place and that he cannot simply be a victim of internal settling of scores. “The president cannot allow himself to be dropped because of a palace war,” says our interviewee. “Beya has betrayed him. […] there has been betrayal!”

According to our information, Beya could be placed under house arrest. In the meantime, the ANR has searched his offices in Sultani as well as those of the CNS. “He had been under surveillance for some time,” says a source close to the investigation. “There is information proving that he is part of a network that aimed to destabilise institutions, and in this network, inside and outside the DRC, there are even mining stories.” “Why is he the only one being arrested if there is a whole network? A clan war is raging within the head of state’s entourage and this has led to the neutralisation of Beya, who embodied the most rational fringe.”

Those who worked with him all describe Beya as a man who was always “courteous”, even though he struggled to shed “his cop’s clothes”. His colleagues insist that he was “a fair and good leader”. Those close to him add that he was “devoted to his family”, who benefited greatly from his generosity and network.

It was clear that there were suspicions about Beya’s loyalty.

He is also a wealthy man who owns many properties in the DRC and abroad, and even has shares in a prominent brewery. His network extends from Kinshasa to Bangui, via Brazzaville and Kigali. “There are also some countries that have called Félix Tshisekedi to ensure that all his rights are respected,” says a member of the presidential entourage. According to our information, Beya was also an important contact for foreign intelligence services, including the CIA. Coincidence or chance? He was arrested two weeks after Daleep Singh, US Homeland Security’s number two, visited Kinshasa.

“Kabila phobia”

“It was clear that there were suspicions about Beya’s loyalty,” says a diplomat in Kinshasa. “I guess he finally went too far.” Another well-informed source says: “He did not understand the palace’s dynamics. Tshisekedi listens to his friends and biological family a lot… He trusts them completely.”

What about his close relationship with Kabila, which so many people reproach him for? “Within Tshisekedi’s entourage, there is a kind of phobia surrounding Joseph Kabila,” says a person close to Beya. “When the adviser tried, in the interest of peace between the two men, to weigh in favour of the former head of state, he was suspected of treachery.” Another person close to the former head of state says: “How is it an offence to remain in contact with a president with whom one has worked for more than 10 years?”

One thing is certain, says another: “Relations between Félix Tshisekedi and Joseph Kabila have deteriorated a lot and they are no longer in direct contact. They only communicate through intermediaries.” Could Beya have paid the price?

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options